Jay Gatsby may be the most famous literary figure that Leonardo DiCaprio has played on screen but he is by no means the first.
The Man In The Iron Mask (1998), Revolutionary Road (2008) and Shutter Island (2010) also saw the star tackling characters first seen in published works, all of which no doubt experienced a bump in sales thanks to his celebrity endorsement.
Alex Garland’s The Beach, of course, was already a bestseller by the time Danny Boyle chose to adapt it, its trippy tale of a British backpacker finding trouble in paradise quickly becoming an indispensable holiday read following its 1996 debut.
And though some fans were peeved by the film’s deviations from the text – not least its protagonist’s change of nationality! – it still retained the novel’s key draw: the notion of an untouched Thai idyll, gorgeously realised by Se7en DoP Darius Khondji.
If ever there was a movie to make you drop everything, pack a bag and jump on the first flight to Bangkok, The Beach is undoubtedly it.
Yet there’s more to enjoy here than the spectacular scenery, Boyle’s dynamic direction, whip-sharp editing and ace use of music keeping us gripped throughout a story that deftly merges glossy holiday brochure, Boy’s Own wish-fulfilment and darkly thrilling psychodrama.
Ok, so this might not be DiCaprio’s most assured performance, hindered as he still was by his post-Titanic status as a pretty-boy Hollywood heartthrob.
It is possible, though, to view conflicted outsider Richard as the first in what has become quite a distinguished list of flawed anti-heroes, even if his thunder is stolen by Tilda Swinton in her role as Sal, the de facto ruler of the secret island community he seeks out with attractive Gallic love-birds Francoise (Virginie Ledoyen) and Etienne (Guillaume Canet).
Boyle didn’t have much fun making The Beach and now sees it as a career misstep. Here at Total Film, though, we think it well worth a reappraisal.
DiCaprio lives the dream (and the nightmare) in an underrated Danny Boyle offering that doesn’t deserve its dodgy rep. Oh, and you won’t Phuket the visuals in a hurry either.